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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Phones

iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 XL: Which should you buy?

8 different ways to narrow down your decision.

James Martin/CNET

So you want a big-screen phone and the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X and Galaxy Note 8 are catching your eye. Which one do you buy? Decisions, decisions.

The best policy is to wait until our reviews are in. Some of you are going to preorder regardless, so for you, we're going to break down the pros and cons of the eight features that matter most, like which phone gives you the most screen for the smallest body size, and which phone that has the most impressive camera features. That just might make all the difference when you're trying to decide if you'll preorder a new, untested phone or wait.

Since Google has only just recently announced the Pixel 2 XL and we haven't had a chance to test it or the iPhone X against the fully reviewed Note 8, a hard and fast opinion on which phone is best will have to wait until all the reviews are in.

Ready? Here we go.

Read also: Compare the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X and Note 8 specs.

Now Playing: Watch this: Pixel 2 and 2 XL: Better camera but no headphone jack
1:54

1. Biggest screen in the smallest body

Slim bezels and screens that take up almost the entire face of the phone are in, and the combo is giving large-screen handsets a smaller footprint overall.

I used this screen-to-body-ratio calculator to find out which of the three phones gives you the most screen in the smallest package. The calculator uses the screen size, screen resolution, height and width to determine the percent of the phone face that makes up the display.

Galaxy Note 8: 82.76 percent

iPhone X: 81.51 percent

Pixel 2 XL: 76.71 percent

2. Best camera tech

Camera quality is one of the main reasons people buy one phone over another. While we can't compare image quality among these phones quite yet, we can dive into the camera specs.

Notably, the Pixel 2 phones have one rear camera, not two. Google claims its tech is so good on the single 12.2-megapixel shooter, it doesn't need a second lens; it can achieve the same depth-effect portrait mode with one camera. Photography test site DxOMark gave the Pixel 2 camera its highest rating ever, at 98. The Galaxy Note 8 scored 94. DxO hasn't rated the iPhone X yet, for the record, and image quality is something we'll certainly test out on our own.

Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone X stands out because its camera adds a dramatic portrait lighting effect to enhance depth-effect photos. This is a beta feature on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, but something we enjoyed trying out in our tests.

The Galaxy Note 8, the first Samsung phone with dual cameras and portrait mode, has a neat effect that saves a wide-angle version of the image along with the telephoto portrait shot, so you get both with the snap of a lens. The iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 will also save two version of the image, though the exact format and audio quality are something we'll need to test.

If you're moved one way or another by camera specs, check out the chart below. Otherwise, know that we expect all three top-tier phones to take excellent photos that looks great online and in print. The differences are often minor and specific -- we think you'll probably get great shots with each of these phones, but to be absolutely certain, it's best to wait.

iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 XL camera specs


iPhone X Galaxy Note 8 Pixel 2 XL
Wide-angle resolution 12-megapixels 12-megapixels 12.2-megapixels
Telephoto resolution 12-megapixels 12-megapixels None
Wide-angle aperture f/1.8 f/1.7 f/1.8
Telephoto aperture f/2.4 f/2.4 None
Optical image stabilization Both wide-angle and telephoto Both wide-angle and telephoto Rear camera
Optical zoom 2X 2X None
Digital zoom 10X 10X N/A
Video 4K and HD 4K and HD 4K and HD
Slow motion 240fps at 1080P, 60fps at 4K 240fps at 720P, 120fps at 1080P 240fps at 720P, 120fps at 1080P
Front camera resolution 7-megapixels 8-megapixels 8-megapixels
Front camera aperture f/2.2 f/1.7 f/2.4
Portrait mode cameras Front and back Back Front and back
Camera extras Portrait Lighting adds dramatic effects, slow-sync flash Can adjust portrait blur, switch between portrait and telephoto shots Free cloud storage, GoogleLens

3. Best unique extras

Pixel 2 and 2 XL:

  • Squeezable frame launches Google Assistant, silences incoming calls
  • Blends optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization to produce smooth video
  • Auto-hotspot with Pixelbook laptop
galaxy-note-8-7586-001

Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 gives you a digital pen.

Josh Miller/CNET

iPhone X:

  • Face ID scans your mug to unlock the phone
  • Portrait lighting mode (also on iPhone 8 Plus)
  • Slow-sync camera flash will help images pop

Galaxy Note 8:

  • S Pen stylus comes bundled with the phone
  • Curved screens with specialized shortcut software
  • Headphone jack, quickly becoming extinct

4. Most complete digital assistant

Google's Assistant is now on every Android 6.0 phone and higher, but Apple's Siri and Samsung's newly launched Bixby Voice app are hot on its heels. 

Pixel 2 XL: Google Assistant

Google Assistant is the clear winner here in terms of actual Web searching -- and that's irrespective of the Galaxy Note 8 or Pixel 2 phones. The fact that it's so good at understanding what you want to say and quickly returning web results is key. On the Pixel 2 XL (and Pixel 2), being able to quickly launch the app with a squeeze is a bonus shortcut. 

Galaxy Note 8: Bixby Voice and Google Assistant

But Samsung's Bixby on the Galaxy Note 8 (and also S8 and S8 Plus) includes both Samsung's voice sidekick and Google Assistant. 

Now Playing: Watch this: Siri vs. Google Assistant vs. Bixby
4:46

In that respect, you get more for your money Bixby Voice excels at specific, complex on-phone tasks, like opening a certain phone gallery and sending a photo to your friend. Samsung likes to say that Bixby Voice can replicate everything with your voice that you can do with a tap. Together with Google Assistant, you get the best of both worlds.

iPhone X: Siri

Siri is the weakest link. It's improved, and does the basics well, but can't handle complex commands and doesn't reliably understand what you're saying, or return the answers in the most clear and convenient ways. We're hoping that a recent tie-in to Google's search database will advance Siri along. It's also possible that Siri has hidden tricks on the iPhone X that we haven't yet seen… we'll keep you posted on that front.

You can still use Google Assistant on the iPhone, but you need to manually toggle it on -- it won't work in the background.

5. Longest battery life

Tune in to the broken record: We'll let you know when we test the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL. In the meantime, you can compare battery ratings.

Battery life depends on a couple things: the overall battery capacity, and how well the software is optimized to reduce battery strain. We know what the battery capacity is, but have only tested the Galaxy Note 8.

apple-091217-iphone-x-4112

Apple pushes OS updates for all phones at once.

James Martin/CNET

iPhone X: Rated at 21 hours of talk time on wireless; 13 hours of internet use; 14 hours of video playback on wireless; 60 hours of audio playback on wireless

Galaxy Note 8: 3,300mAh (CNET test: 17 hours, 30 minutes; average of 5 looping battery drain tests on airplane mode)

Google Pixel 2 XL: 3,520mAh

6. Fastest security and software updates

The iPhone and Google Pixel 2 XL have this cornered. Apple controls it hardware and software top to bottom, so any software update reaches all supported phones at once.

Similarly, Google's Pixel series gets Android updates first. The Pixel 2 and 2 XL are among the first phones to launch with Android 8.0 Oreo software, but last year's Pixels already updated. That's a good track record.

Samsung layers its own software on top of Android, and that means it takes longer for the company to test new version that work well with its own software twist -- and longer for carriers to make sure that that version works with their networks.

7. Most possible storage

All three phones start with 64GB of external storage.

Google Pixel 2 XL: 64GB or 128GB versions, plus unlimited cloud storage for photos

Galaxy Note 8: 64GB and up to 2TB expandable storage

iPhone X:
64GB or 256GB options

8. Most affordable 

Prices tend to drop over time, especially as carriers and stores offer seasonal deals. These prices represent each phone's full retail cost at launch.

iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 XL price


iPhone X Galaxy Note 8 Pixel 2 XL
Price off-contract (USD) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) AT&T: $950; Verizon: $960; T-Mobile: $930; Sprint: $960; U.S. Cellular: $963 $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £869 £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,479 (256GB) AU$1,499 AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB)